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Is it a tech toy or an investment?

google-glass-rachel-king-2948When the one-day opportunity to order Google Glass came up recently, I jumped on it. I had tried on Marta Rauch‘s pair a couple months ago, and had seen her presentations about it, and fell in love with them. This was wearable technology I could use, as far as I was concerned! I was able to order the Glass I wanted, and was very excited about it…until I told my husband. I didn’t tell him how much it cost, but I did tell him that I bought them. He totally flipped out, but not in a good way. He felt that whatever I did spend on them, it was too much money for a “toy”. I’m earning some good money now, and I felt it was an investment–I’d like to explore how they are used, and how technical communication and m-learning would be part of the wearable technology experience for myself. But no.  I cancelled the order, as he had a good point about the cost being too high. Even so, I’m really sad about missing out on this opportunity.

Financial considerations aside, it got me thinking about technological “toys”, and what’s truly a “toy” versus adopting early technology, albeit at a high price initially. I’ve heard Neil Perlin talk about how he had some of the earliest portable computers around–nothing like the laptops of today–that cost a small fortune even by today’s standards. Sure, it’s outdated and obsolete technology now, but so are a lot of other technologies that were around just a few years ago. Children today don’t know what a Walkman is, or that telephones used to actually have a cord and you actually used a dial mechanism to connect your phone to another phone. Heck, pay phones are pretty much obsolete now.  What did people think when the first iPhone or the first flip phone came out? Those are obsolete now, too.  So, sure, perhaps Google Glass is a very expensive “toy”, but how does anyone know if perhaps I was really an early adopter and I’d be ahead of the curve for knowing how to make it work and use it for practical reasons if I had actually gotten one?

I remember when I got my first iPad–it was an iPad 2. I had saved up, and asked anyone who was going to be getting me a gift for my birthday, holidays, etc. to give me gift cards to Best Buy so I could purchase it.  I was so thrilled when I got it, and my husband thought that was a waste of money. He insisted that I already had a laptop, and didn’t need an iPad, that again–it was just a toy. I insisted that yes, there were “toy” elements to it, but I considered it “computing lite”, where I could do many tasks that I normally do, but the ones that didn’t necessarily need my laptop to be powered up. Then, about a year later, I was fortunate enough to win an iPad3 so I could upgrade. My husband had insisted that I sell my old one, but for all his moaning that I should get rid of it, guess who’s been using it for almost two years now? Yep, him. It’s still a little bit of a “toy” to him, but he’s a news junkie, and he loves to read different news sources and some light research on it when he’s not using his desktop (nope, he doesn’t even own a laptop). So, it’s not going anywhere. My iPad has gone with me all over the country–on vacation, to conferences, and has entertained me when I don’t need to be in front of my laptop. I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of mine multi-fold. And yet…I feel like this is the same situation.

Of the emerging techologies that are coming out, whether they are wearables or something else, what do you think is a tech “toy” and what do you think could be the next big thing, or a step towards the next big thing? 3-D printers and Google Glass have my attention–I would love to own both of them. What has your attention? Add your thoughts to the comments below.

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What you so afraid of? Part II – The Tech Comm Edition

torchwood_jacktorturedI’ve been reflecting a lot, lately, into what makes me continue to pursue a technical career, especially in technical communications. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been doing in the last year to stay on top of trends and issues in the technical communications field, because the last thing that a prospective employer needs is someone who is stuck in his or her own ways, never learning and never progressing. Technology is constantly changing, and both technical communications at-large as well as the e-learning world are both in the flux of a “revolution”–a revolution that reflects that these fields are in the process of changing and revitalizing in order to keep up with modern thought and technological advances. One of the reason I try to stay as active as possible in social media is to stay on top of those trends and have an understanding of the current issues and advances in these fields so that I can go into a job understanding what the needs of a company are in order to help that company move forward.

And yet, it seems like there are so many companies, from my own observation, that are terrified of change and progress. Is it too much too soon? Perhaps it is. I’ve talked about this topic before at length specifically in regard to how the m-learning revolution is trying to make headway in the e-learning field in my post, “What Are You So Afraid Of?” back in July 2012. But as my most recent experiences personally have been more tech comm related, I’m starting to think that this fear of progress extends to the tech comm world as well.

I remember a big part of what was mentioned at the Adobe Day panel was the idea that as technical communicators, we understand the value of our work better than the higher-ups in managerial positions, and it’s our duty, in many respects to make sure that these higher-ups understand that value and the ROI (return on investment) that using structured content and other tools at a technical communicator’s disposal will benefit the company in the long run.  When I’ve gone on interviews or worked at various jobs, I talk about the advances that are going on involving mobile technology and how companies need to keep up with this fast-growing technology. While the interviewers or other people I speak with are impressed with my knowledge and agree the changes need to be made, the argument made is that the higher-ups, who don’t understand this value of technical communications as well as we do, insist on sticking with old ways, and slowing down progress for the sake of comfort levels. It’s a “Don’t fix what ain’t broken”-kind of mentality. I know that sometimes budgets can limit how soon progress is made, because ever-changing technological advances can be expensive, especially if one is always trying to keep up with the latest and greatest. But I also know that spending a lot of money on ancient systems that aren’t keeping up with current technology and even supporting such ancient technology and methods that aren’t even supported today is throwing money away too. Would we even have smartphones or cell phones if we settled for landline phones only? Would microprocessing computers have even been invented if we settled for manual typewriters long ago? Settling for the old doesn’t really benefit anyone, especially global companies that want to stay ahead of the competition.

The photo above is a favorite character on one of my favorite TV series, “Torchwood,” named Captain Jack. Captain Jack is generally a fearless guy, especially since he has some sort of capability where he cannot die. In that sense, when up against some sort of danger personally, he’s got nothing to lose at all. But since he’s lived for so long, he also respects the past and understands the full impact of his actions and how they affect others. Despite having nothing to lose by his actions, he’s actually the conservative one when it comes to making decisions, basing his actions on what he knows and what he researches first. He is cautious, but he’s not against trying something new if it makes sense. If you see him with a facial expression like the one he has above, you KNOW that something REALLY bad is going on, and it has greater repercussions beyond himself.

There are times that I have that same feeling, at least in my own mind.  While I respect that certain systems work and work well, and I know I’m not the most experienced technical communicator out there, I’ve done some due diligence, and again, I try to keep up with what’s going on in the world so that I’m ready to keep up with the latest advances and thought in the field. When I hear that companies are hesitant to budge from an old way of thinking, I feel frustrated. How are these companies supposed to keep their standings as world-class, advanced companies when their communications are not cutting edge, or at least up-to-date? Again, I understand that executive managers have to look at the full picture and work within budgets, but with a world that is going mobile faster than anyone can keep up with, why aren’t big companies even attempting to keep up even a little bit? Just as I had mentioned in the last article on this topic relating to m-learning mentioned above, I see it occurring in tech comm itself as well, with companies not keeping up with the latest version of how documentation outputs have to be changed to keep up with mobile technology. There is little risk with proven methods.

As a global economy–not just in the United States–we are trying to emerge from one of the biggest financial crises in economic history. Looking back at history, it’s usually during these times of economic woe that some of the greatest leaps in technology and business have been made, using great intellect and creativity to push things forward when resources were scarce. This is a time of emergence again. There are so many companies that have taken the leap forward to help take us to the next step. Smartphone and tablet manufacturers have brought us the next means of gathering information and providing communication between us. In turn, software manufacturers, like Adobe with TCS 4 and MadCap with Flare, among others, have provided us with tools to help take the content that technical communicators write to a new level of efficiency and flexibility among all the new mobile devices in the world while still keeping up with desktop capabilities.  If any companies embrace any of the changes that are going on in the technical communications field, they can deliver bigger and better communications thus benefitting from the changes, not being hindered by them.

So, what are you so afraid of, corporate world? Help technical communicators help you. Even the smallest step forward will be step towards a better future for your company.

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Mobile as a Way of Life I Can Never Abandon–I’ll Tell You Why

It became very apparent to me in the last week that I could not live without mobile technology. You would’ve thought that I would’ve learned it during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But it hit home much more for me this past week, and I’ll tell you why.

My husband went off on a trip to visit his family in South America. He hadn’t been there since 1997–a time where we had been merely dating. He was away for nine days. Now, for those who are separated from loved ones often enough, nine days might not seem like a lot. My husband and I have been apart for two to three days at a time, but we have never been apart for as long as nine days since that last trip he made in 1997 below the equator. We also didn’t have a child to consider at the time he last went on such a long trip–a sign of times changing. I hate the idea that we were going to be separated for so long.

The other sign of the times changing was that as much as I missed him terribly, I was able to communicate with him while he was down there. Now, the last time he went down there, he and I would sometimes talk by email or by Windows Messenger, but it wasn’t frequently, just because internet connectivity was limited down south, and it was expensive even back then. I wasn’t on a cable coaxial connection back then, but rather a dial-up modem, so time was money.

Internet infrastructure and technology has improved over the last 16 years, fortunately for us. This time, while we did use email, we also texted and used Facetime. We could send photos and video to each other in real time.  How? I made sure that my husband brought his smartphone and my extra iPad on the trip, not only to help keep him entertained on the plane with digital movies, books, magazines and games, but so that we had a way to communicate easily too. My father-in-law had installed wifi at his house (it helps that my younger brother-in-law, who still lives with his father, is a computer geek), and so my husband and I could share live conversations on Facetime (he’d call up my iPhone). We’d also be texting each other when needed for quick bits of information during the day, emailing and instant messaging as well. It helped ease how much I was missing him during the trip.

What definitely convinced me that I could never live without mobile devices was the night that my husband was returning from his trip. He was at the airport which had wifi (although it was not strong and somewhat spotty), and to kill some time late at night before his flight, my husband called me on FaceTime to have a video conversation. We could talk more freely than we had during his last trip away. He was amazed at the clarity of the video communication, and there was a moment while we talked when I could see in his eyes that he missed me as much as I missed him. It happened faster than fast, but it was something that could never be communicated with words in a text, email or instant message. It might not even be communicated the same way in a digital photo or video. It was talking in real time that captured it, and it was captured in my brain forever. That’s something that can’t be done that easily with a desktop or laptop. I don’t think that moment would’ve even been possible with a laptop–it would’ve had to have been done with a smartphone or tablet to have happened.

I talk about how mobile technology is the wave of the future–or really, the wave of NOW–in e-learning. I still believe that. But the other night, hours before my husband began his journey home, I learned an important part of mobile technology.  Mobile technology is not only to be able to capture video, audio, photos or have a conversation of an event going on anyplace, anytime, but the actual impact of being present for learning in real-time during such an event is everything. It’s the next best thing to being there in person. A conversation between a person in a South American airport and another sitting on a couch in Central New Jersey using streaming video and audio wouldn’t have been possible years ago. It is now.

Criticisms of m-learning often relate to the use of social media, implying that there is a lack of real communication between people because of the presence of social media. I disagree. If anything, it’s helping to bridge the gap, so that moments like my video conversations with my husband can be possible. They don’t have to be between family members, but they can be with colleagues on a project just as easily. Yes, video conversations have been around for a long time too, but not like this. If my husband had wifi in other places he travelled while visiting his family, he could show me in real-time what was happening around him. Now, the wifi infrastructure down there isn’t even close to what we have up in the States, and even here in the States, as I have mentioned before, we could have better support and availability of wifi around the country for better communication. Just think about that for a moment. If wifi infrastructure was strengthened globally, we truly could have a better “anytime, anywhere” experience not only to talk to each other but to learn from each other.

You will never be able to take a mobile device away from me, that’s one thing I’ve learned for sure!